The Oakland A’s were baseball’s dominant team from 1988-90. They finished with the best record in the majors and won the American League pennant all three years. They won the World Series in 1989. Upset losses in 1988 and 1990 dimmed their legacy, but there was no questioning their excellence. After a brief slip in 1991, they bounced back. The 1992 Oakland A’s were a group of proud veterans making one last run together.
Oakland came at opponents with deep pitching. Dave Stewart and Bob Welch, cornerstone arms of the pennant runs, were still good at age 35. Ron Darling, a key part of the New York Mets’ 1986 championship team, was now out west. This trio all had ERAs in the 3s. Mike Moore’s was a little higher, at 4.12, but the righthander won 17 games.
The bullpen was even deeper. Manager Tony LaRussa got the most out of a crew that included 38-year-old Rick Honeycutt and 40-year-old Goose Gossage. Jim Horsman, Vince Corsi and Jeff Parretts rounded out the setup team that served as the bridge between the rotation and the ninth inning.
And if Oakland got to the ninth inning with the lead? It was as good as over. At the age of 37, the future of Hall of Famer Dennis Eckersely saved 51 games, posted a 1.91 ERA and swept both the Cy Young and MVP awards in the American League.
Offensively, the A’s finished with the same rank as the pitching staff—fourth in the American League. The lineup was a little more top-heavy dependent on a few key parts. Rickey Henderson was 33-years-old, but the leadoff man could still fly. He finished with an on-base percentage of .412 and stole 48 bases. Mark McGwire hit 42 home runs with a .385 OBP and finished fourth in the MVP voting.
A player that’s forgotten from these teams is tough second baseman Mike Bordick, whose .358 OBP at the second base spot was invaluable. It helped at least partially offset a mediocre year from left fielder Jose Canseco, something the front office would move aggressively to address in the late summer.
Oakland played steady baseball in the early going and reached Memorial Day with a 26-17 record, good for a 1 ½ game lead in the AL West. In these days prior to the realignment and postseason expansion that was just two years away, each league had only an East & West division with the winners moving directly to the League Championship Series. That meant defending World Series champ Minnesota was a division rival of the A’s.
The A’s got hot in the first part of June. They scored 22 runs in a sweep of Boston and nudged the division lead out to four games. The second part of the month saw Oakland give the advantage back. They lost three of four at home to the Twins, the last two by scores of 12-2 and 10-2 in an ugly weekend of baseball at Alameda County Coliseum. When the All-Star break arrived, the A’s were two games behind the champs.
August was the defining month. Oakland went 19-10 and took control of the AL West, spurting out to a 6 ½ game lead. On the final day of the month, they were playing a contending Baltimore Orioles team. Canseco was in the on-deck circle in the first inning when he was summoned back to the dugout. He’d been traded to Texas.
It was a shocking move, but the A’s got a good package in return. Ruben Sierra was an offensive force in the outfield. Bobby Witt was a power righthander that gave the rotation another arm. Witt would make six starts down the stretch and post a 3.41 ERA. Jeff Russell gave LaRussa another weapon out of the bullpen and he pitched scoreless baseball in nine innings of September work.
Even so, the move clearly shocked a team that had taken control of a good division. Oakland was shut out that night by Baltimore and lost five of seven immediately following the trade. Minnesota pulled within 4 ½ games.
In those days, when the A’s really needed a win, there was no one more reliable then Stewart. So it was on September 9 when he took the mound in Anaheim. Stewart pitched seven innings of two-hit baseball, outdueling talented Angels’ lefty Mark Langston. Russell and Eckersely cleaned up the last two innings. That game was the final turning point of the season. Oakland’s divisional lead began trending back upward and the race never got tighter. The A’s clinched an off-night with a week to go, as the Twins lost a game.
Oakland’s 96 wins were even with AL East champ Toronto, but record didn’t decide homefield advantage. A simple rotation system did, so the American League Championship Series opened in Toronto. Stewart got the ball in Game 1, pitched well and the A’s pulled out a win on a late home run by Harold Baines. They had temporary control of this series.
The emphasis is on “temporary” though. Toronto won the next three games. The cruelest cut was Game 4. The A’s led 6-1 in the eighth inning and even after a Jays rally, still had a 6-4 lead in the ninth with Eckersley on the mound. The MVP gave up a game-tying home run to Roberto Alomar and it was lost in extra innings. Stewart won Game 5, but the Blue Jays closed it out in the sixth game.
It was still a magnificent year in Oakland, the last run for a great group of players. The fact this was the end of the run was no surprise. In fact, it was LaRussa’s last winning season in Oakland. He stayed on three more years before rejuvenating his career in St. Louis. As to the A’s, they didn’t make it back to the playoffs until 2000. But the 1992 season was a nice final chapter to a truly great run of baseball in the Bay Area.